When the Supreme Court Decides, Does the Public Follow?

29 Pages Posted: 7 Jul 2007

See all articles by Patrick J. Egan

Patrick J. Egan

New York University (NYU) - Wilf Family Department of Politics

Jack Citrin

University of California, Berkeley

Date Written: July 5, 2007


Can the Supreme Court persuade the public to agree with its rulings on controversial social issues? Or do the Court's pronouncements on these issues cause the Court to lose credibility with those who disagree with it? Both of these questions have been the topics of normative and positive theorizing and analysis of observational data. But to our knowledge, these questions have never been explored experimentally using a nationally representative sample of participants. In this paper, we use an experiment that we embedded in the 2006 Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) to assess the relationship between Supreme Court rulings on three controversial topics (abortion, flag burning, and homosexual sex), public opinion on these issues, and the public's evaluation of the Court. We find that learning of the Court's ruling decriminalizing gay sex in Lawrence v. Texas leads a small, statistically significant proportion of respondents to change their attitudes to agree with the Court compared to those in a treatment group who are not informed of the decision. But we find no evidence of similar movement in attitudes on abortion (after being informed of Roe v. Wade) and flag burning (Johnson v. Texas). We do, however, find that being informed of the Johnson and Lawrence rulings has much larger effects on respondents' attitudes about the Court itself.

Keywords: Supreme Court, public opinion, abortion, gay rights, free speech, survey experiments

Suggested Citation

Egan, Patrick J. and Citrin, Jack, When the Supreme Court Decides, Does the Public Follow? (July 5, 2007). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=998597 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.998597

Patrick J. Egan (Contact Author)

New York University (NYU) - Wilf Family Department of Politics ( email )

19 W. 4th Street
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012
United States

Jack Citrin

University of California, Berkeley ( email )

310 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

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